⛱️ Happy Saturday. Fingers crossed for our friends and readers on the Southeast coast who're having their holiday plans spoiled by Dorian.
- Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,198 words ... ~ 4 minutes.
1 big thing: Two Americas, tuning each other out
The country's polarization now extends to entertainment television, Axios' Shane Savitsky writes.
- Why it matters: Americans used to have only a few TV options, producing mass-culture moments like The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show," the "Who shot J.R.?" episode of "Dallas," and the "M*A*S*H" finale.
- But just as social media exacerbated our tribalization, the rise of cable and streaming services has created a wealth of content — increasingly targeted and niche — that has become part of our cultural splintering.
The state of play: You can see the split by the geographic schisms in Google interest in two programs — HBO's "Succession" and USA's live wrestling "WWE Raw" — which both air weekly to similarly-sized audiences.
- "Succession," a comedy-drama about the machinations of a Murdoch-y family running a media conglomerate, kicked off its second season this month with constant coverage in the fancy press (see the N.Y. Times' "The Making of Wealth Porn") and a slew of awards nominations. Its search interest is highest on the coasts and in the priciest cities in the U.S., New York and San Francisco.
- "Raw," the wrestling extravaganza in its 26th season, hasn't had a mention in The Times in the past year, even as it had the second-most social media interactions per episode of any TV series in 2018, according to Nielsen. And its search interest is decidedly clustered in the Rust Belt and the South — prime Trump country.
Traditional network shows also face this same divide, according to a SurveyMonkey poll for Business Insider.
- "Last Man Standing," Tim Allen's unabashedly conservative Fox comedy series, was listed by 65% of conservatives as one of their five favorite shows — and 0% of liberals.
- NBC's "The Good Place," a philosophy-heavy comedic look at the afterlife, was a top-fiver for 59% of liberals, but just 6% of conservatives.
- Last year's ill-fated reboot of "Roseanne" on ABC — now spun off as "The Conners" following its titular star's racist Twitter tirade — was the rare show that tried to bridge the political divide, briefly becoming the highest-rated sitcom in years when it first premiered, per The Hollywood Reporter.
The big picture: Week after week, the list of the most-watched shows on cable television is dominated by Fox News — with a few appearances by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow — highlighting how political punditry so often functions as entertainment in Americans' media diets.
- The space is so lucrative that Fox News launched its own streaming service last year, which includes entertainment programming centered on its pundits, like a cooking show featuring "Fox & Friends" host Steve Doocy.
The bottom line: This trend will accelerate as more and more streaming services with their own cloistered libraries spin up, highlighted by the launch of Disney+ later this year.
2. Trump's revealing tweet
President Trump tweeted a high-reso image of the aftermath of a mysterious explosion at an Iranian space center, "raising questions about whether he had plucked a classified image from his morning intelligence briefing to troll the Iranians," the N.Y. Times' David E. Sanger and Bill Broad write.
- Maybe a first for a photo credit in The New York Times: "President Trump, via Twitter."
- Trump's text: "The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One."
Why it matters, from the WashPost: "The image ... is almost certainly highly classified, experts said, and bears markings that resemble those made by intelligence analysts."
- The photo "appears to show a camera flash and a person’s shadow, leading to speculation that Trump or one of his aides may have snapped a picture of the image using a cellphone," the Post says.
Asked about the photo by reporters on the South Lawn, Trump said: "I just wish Iran well. They had a big problem. And we had a photo. And I released it, which I have the absolute right to do."
- Asked where it came from, he said: "You’ll have to figure that one out yourself."
For contrast with the U.S. spy shot, here's a commercial satellite view:
3. Trump forgives ousted aide
President Trump said he considered the ouster of his personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, to be virtually "automatic" after he found out about comments she made during an off-the-record dinner with reporters.
- Trump, speaking yesterday on the South Lawn before boarding Marine One, told reporters that Westerhout had called him moments earlier and "was very upset — she was down."
- ⚡ Trump tweeted this morning: "While Madeleine Westerhout has a fully enforceable confidentiality agreement, she is a very good person and I don’t think there would ever be reason to use it. She called me yesterday to apologize, had a bad night. I fully understood and forgave her!"
Westerhout, whose access to the White House was revoked Thursday, made the off-the-record remarks at a dinner with reporters who were covering him during this month's summer break in New Jersey.
- "Everything she said was off the record," Trump told reporters. "And that still doesn’t really cover for her. She mentioned a couple of things about my children."
- "I think the press is very dishonest because it was supposed to be off the record," he added. "But, still, you don’t say things like she said, which were just a little bit hurtful to some people."
Asked about a report by Politico about the contents of Westerhout's dish, Trump said the idea that he didn't want to be photographed with Tiffany Trump, his youngest daughter, was "just absolutely false."
- "Tiffany is great," he said. "I love Tiffany. ...I look forward to talking to her."
Why it matters: Westerhout, whose title was director of Oval Office operations, sat right outside the Oval Office, and had unique visibility into the president's calls, visitors and correspondence.
- She was one of very few West Wing officials who had been there from Day 1.
The president said Westerhout told him she had been drinking at the dinner.
- "She’s a very ... good person," Trump said. "I always felt she did a good job. ... ... I really think she had a bad night. ... And I wish her well."
- "[T]he press breaks off-the-records all the time because they are very dishonorable. Many of them. Not all of you, but many of them are very dishonorable."
4. Pic du jour
Above, a sea turtle nest is cordoned off on South Beach, Miami, as bands of rain pour in.
Hurricane Dorian has gained fearsome new muscle as an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 storm, bearing down on the northwestern Bahamas en route to Florida's east coast, AP reports.
- Dorian will threaten the Florida peninsula late Monday or early Tuesday.
- Meteorologists remain unsure whether Dorian will make a direct strike or glancing blow.
5. How U.S. tech depends on China
6. 1 cub thing
A Siberian tiger cub licks an ice cake with meat at the zoo in Hanover, Germany.